The Siesta







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Joseph Edouard STEVENS

Bruxelles, 1816–1892

The Siesta, c. 1860

Oil on canvas, 74 x 92 cm

Signed lower right: Jos Stevens


Exhibitions

Antwerp 1861, n. 1036

Literature

Exposition Nationale. Catalogue des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et dessin, executés
par des artistes vivants, et exposés au Salon d’Anvers. le 4 août 1861, n. 1036, p. 151; Léopold Stapleaux,
Congrès et Exposition d’Anvers, in «L’Artiste. Beaux-Arts et Belle Lettres», Paris 1861, p. 180.


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The son of an art dealer and the elder brother of the painter Alfred Stevens and of the art critic Arthur
Stevens, Joseph Edouard Stevens was one of the leading figures on the Belgian art scene in the mid-19th
century despite the fact that his repertoire belongs to a minor genre in the classification of academic
painting, because he chose almost exclusively to paint animals.
Raised in an artistic environment, he attended painting courses at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts
in Brussels and showed his work for the first time at the Brussels Salon in 1842. On moving to Paris, he
frequented the atelier of Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps and the Barbizon School painters. He enjoyed the
social life in the French capital to the full, moving between the accepted venues of elegance and luxury
and the more bohémien atmosphere of the artists’ cafés. Camille Lemonnier portrayed the man as a fashionable artist with a very personal brand of charm, even describing him as «plus fier de la coupe de
sa jaquette que de ses tableaux» (C. Lemonnier, La Vie Belge, Brussels 1906, p. 64).
In his compositions Joseph Stevens displayed a painterly skill of incipient realism and sophisticated
workmanship, his subjects frequently supported by an authentically romantic vein and his settings
constructed with extreme veracity and formal care thanks to an analytical approach to draughtsmanship
and firm modelling fleshed out by the jewel-like honesty of his palette.
Camille Lemonnier, again, celebrated the artist as one of the leading animalier painters of his day, a
man capable of vying with the great animalier painters of the past such Snijders, Jordaens and Fijt,
recognising that the virtues of his painting included «le ton appuyé et gras, les accords veloutés, les
accents sobres, la riche santé de l’oeil et cette forte estampille de la touche martelant les pâtes comme un
pilon» (C. Lemonnier, École belge de peinture 1830-1905, Brussels 1906, pp. 60-61).

The painting under discussion in this paper is highly likely to be a work entitled La Sieste (The Siesta)
that Joseph Stevens showed at the Exposition Nationale de Beaux-Arts in Antwerp in 1861.
This is how a review of the time describes the details of the painting, allowing us to identify the subject
of the painting under discussion here: «M. Joseph Stevens a deux aristocratiques lévriers un brune et un
blanc; ils ont l’air de vouloir représenter l’ennui plein de distinction qui règne dans certaines maisons
des quartiers St. Germain, et digèrent avec conscience l’eau et le pain, seul repas permis à leurs formes
sveltes et grêles qu’il s’agit avant tout de conserver; on baille et on a froid rien qu’à examiner ces chiens
de bonne compagnie» (s.a., Salon d’Anvers, in «Journal des Beaux-Arts», a. III, n. 19, 15 October 1861,
p. 156).
Bolstering the contention that the picture under discussion is indeed the painting submitted at the
Antwerp Salon in 1861, we have a description by Léopold Stapleaux, who wrote in another review that
the picture was remarkable for its draughtsmanship, colour and subject: «M. Joseph Stevens poursuit à
Anvers ses succès parisiens. La Sieste, un tableau simple se composant de deux chiens lévriers se
chauffant dans l’âtre, est une toile remarquable sous le triple rapport du dessin, de la couleur et du sujet.
Il a valu à M. Stevens une commande importante de madame la duchesse de Brabant.» (Léopold
Stapleaux, Congrès et Exposition d’Anvers, in «L’Artiste. Beaux-Arts et Belle Lettres», Paris 1861, p. 180).
Joseph Stevens, together with Goya, Manet, Daumier and Constantin Guys, was one of the artists
whose creations were among the artistic references cited in Charles Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en Prose.
«L’Indépendance belge» carried a poem in prose by Baudelaire entitled Les bons chiens in its 21 June
1865 edition, though it was subsequently to be republished by other newspapers between 1866 and
1867. The poem is a paean in praise of dogs with a dedication to Joseph Stevens, who had assisted the
poet during his precarious exile in Belgium in 1864 (In his composition Baudelaire refers to the gift of a
gilet or waistcoat which the painter doffed and gave to the poet, a waiscoat “d’une couleur, à la fois
riche et fanée, qui fait penser aux soleils d’automne, à la beauté des femmes mûres et aux étés de la
Saint-Martin”.

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